ICFIFC: Day of The Triffids

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Monday, November 4, 2013

ICFIFC: Day of The Triffids

The Day of the Triffids is a 1951 post-apocalyptic novel about a plague of blindness which befalls the entire world, allowing the rise of an aggressive species of plant.  It was written by the English science fiction author John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, under the pen name John Wyndham.  Although Wyndham had already published other novels using other pen-name combinations drawn from his real name, this was the first novel that was published as John Wyndham.  It established him as an important writer, and remains his best known novel.

Triffids are referenced in the opening number of the stage/film musical The Rocky Horror Show: "I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills."  Janette Scott played the role of Karen Goodwin in the 1962 film adaptation.

According to director Danny Boyle, it was the opening hospital sequence of The Day of the Triffids that inspired Alex Garland to write the screenplay for 28 Days Later.  The short story "How to Make a Triffid" includes discussions of the possible genetic pathways that could be manipulated to engineer the triffids from Wyndham's story.  The web series Welcome to Sanditon references triffids numerous times, in particular the novel and 1981 BBC adaptation.

And then of course there is the 1962 film.


The Day of the Triffids (1962)

  • Genre: Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed:
    • Steve Sekely 
    • Freddie Francis
  • Produced:
    • George Pitcher 
    • Philip Yordan 
    • Bernard Glasser
  • Written:
    • John Wyndham (Novel "The Day of the Triffids") 
    • Bernard Gordon (Screenplay)  
    • Philip Yordan (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Mervyn Johns, Ewan Roberts, Alison Leggatt, Geoffrey Matthews, Janina Faye, Gilgi Hauser
  • Music: Ron Goodwin
  • Cinematography: Ted Moore
  • Editing: Spencer Reeve
  • Studio:
    • Allied Artists Pictures  
    • Security Pictures Ltd.
  • Distributed:
    • J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors  
    • Allied Artists Pictures
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 27 April 1963
  • Running Time: 93 minutes
  • Country: UK
  • Language: English

Triffids are plants.  They are able to uproot themselves and walk, possess a deadly whipping poisonous sting, and may even have the ability to communicate with each other.  On screen they vaguely resemble gigantic asparagus shoots topped with a flower-like 'head' which houses a whip-like, venomous stinger, and that resembles a Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid.

Bill Masen, a merchant navy officer, is lying in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged.  He discovers that while he has been waiting for his accident-damaged eyes to heal, an unusual meteor shower has blinded most people on Earth.  Once he leaves the hospital, Masen finds people all over London struggling to stay alive in the face of their new affliction.  Some survive by cooperating while others simply fight, but it is apparent that after just a few days society is collapsing.

He rescues a school girl, Susan, from a crashed train.  They leave London and head for France.  They find refuge at a chateau, but when it is attacked by sighted prisoners they are again forced to escape.  The Triffid population continues to grow, feeding on people and animals.  Meanwhile, on a coastal island, Tom Goodwin, a flawed but gifted scientist, and his wife Karen battle the plants as he searches for a way to beat them.

The film retained some basic plot elements from Wyndham's novel, but it was not a particularly faithful adaptation.  "It strays significantly and unnecessarily from the book and is less well regarded than the BBC's intelligent (if dated) 1981 TV serial."  Unlike the novel, the Triffids arrive as spores in an earlier meteor shower, and some of the action is moved to Spain.  Most seriously, it supplies a simplistic solution to the Triffid problem: salt water dissolves them, and "the world was saved".  This different ending appears to be closer to the ending of The War of the Worlds than Wyndham's novel, as the invading aliens succumb to a common product of Earth (as the Martians died of bacteria) and both end with a religious tone.  This ending was also used to similar effect in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs.

Simon Clark, author of The Night of the Triffids stated on interview: "The film version is enjoyable, luring the effective looking Triffids away with music from an ice-cream van and some other good action scenes.  The Triffids' death-by-seawater climax is weak and contrived though.  But it would still rank in my all-time top 100 films."  Halliwell's Film Guide claimed the film was a "rough and ready adaptation of a famous sci-fi novel, sometimes blunderingly effective and with moments of good trick work."  And speaking of “The Night of The Triffids”:

The Night of the Triffids is a science fiction novel by Simon Clark published in 2001.  It is a sequel to John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids.  Clark has been commended for his success at mimicking Wyndham's style, but most reviewers have not rated his creation as highly as the original 1951 work.  Clark's book is written in the first person and narrated by David Masen, the son of Wyndham's protagonist.

The story starts 25 years after The Day of the Triffids ended.  Pilot David Masen has grown up in a community on the Isle of Wight, safe from the venomous and carnivorous triffid plants which have dominated the world since most human beings were blinded by a meteor shower (as related in the original book).

As the sequel begins, a mysterious darkness falls — something is blotting out the sun.  Masen takes to the air to determine if a high cloud is to blame but he loses contact with his home base and crash-lands on a floating island populated by triffids.  There, he meets an orphaned young girl, and the pair are subsequently rescued by an American ship and taken to Manhattan island in New York City.

Manhattan, a secure and self-contained community like the one on the Isle of Wight, appears at first glance to be a utopia; but David soon realizes that it is in fact a dictatorship run by an old enemy of his father's.  David and his young friend are soon being used by both the dictator and a band of rebels who oppose the dictator's tyrannical rule, while the triffids — now evolved into even more dangerous forms — are trying to take deadly advantage of the slowly lifting darkness.

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